At the peak of his 20-year career at Dunbar High School, Jesse B. Chase earned about $100 a week teaching physical education. He also coached football, basketball, swimming, track, cross-country and tennis, but no one got paid for coaching in those days.
Hundreds of boys passed through his care from l946 to 1965. And many of them gathered recently to honor him and other former Dunbar coaches with a recognition banquet at Bolling Air Force Base's Officers' Club.
"What makes me happy is the fact that these men have succeeded in life," Chase, 74, said as he strolled among former players who include some local business owners, educators, doctors and military officers.
He likes to sneak into University of the District of Columbia basketball games and watch one of them, Firebirds Coach Wil Jones, doing his job.
In all, 17 coaches were recognized, seven posthumously. In addition to Chase, other honorees present included former coaches L.J. Williams, Frank P. Bolden and William Rountree.
"This collective group of gentlemen touched the lives of a number of distinguished black men," said Jim Featherstone, a 1951 Dunbar graduate who played football under Chase. "They had a positive impact on our lives.
"They were role models that pushed us to persevere. We just want to say, 'thank you,' " said Featherstone, an assistant dean at UDC.
Around the room cameras flashed and men in dinner jackets hollered and hugged as they recognized old teammates they hadn't seen in years. Old stories were told, old victories recounted in detail, but through the former players' memories of Chase there ran a single thread: Jesse Chase was a hard, tough man, but he loved "his boys."
Chase said, "My philosophy is this, pure and simple: The object of any educational program . . . is to get these young people through school and let them make something out of themselves."
Eugene Tapscott, a Shell Oil Co. sales representative and former Dunbar tailback, called Chase "a character builder."
"He made you appreciate your own ability. He was a very stern and hard taskmaster but also very benevolent," said Dr. Jack Boyd, associate dean of denistry at Howard University and former center on one of Chase's football teams.
Boyd recalled that Chase changed the color of the football uniforms and changed the team's name from "The Poets" to "Crimson Tide."
"He said the poets sounded too sissified, and we were always getting beat," Boyd said.
Even as grown men, his former players are still awed by Chase, said former Dunbar football player Warren Williams.
"When we were planning this affair . . . I couldn't even bring myself to drink beer in front of Dr. Chase," said Williams, who owns a liquor store. "He was more than a father to me, and I can't imagine acting like he's just a buddy. I noticed all these grown men still say, 'yes sir' and 'no sir' to him and nobody calls him by his first name."
Chase keeps pictures of some of his former athletes and a box of memorabilia, post cards and letters from them in the living room of his home, an immaculate white Cape Cod house on Sixth Street NW in Shepherd Park. There's nothing in the box from his college days, when he played football and was on the track and boxing teams at Boston University.
"I see some of my boys on the streets sometimes," he said. "I get letters and calls from them. It's just like a big family."
He and his wife Imogene, a former Dunbar math teacher, have a 38-year-old son who, Chase said, "was on the soccer and sailing teams in college, things which I knew nothing about."
After coaching at Dunbar, Chase became a guidance counselor at Spingarn High School. He left Washington briefly to work as an administrator for a Long Island school system.
He returned to head the Public and Health Education Department at UDC. He cannot recall the exact years of these job changes, but he retired just three years ago.
A sixth generation Washingtonian, Chase has remained active in community affairs, serving as president of several local civic organizations. He and his wife recently returned from a Kiwanis convention in Vienna, Austria.
In May, he was honored by some students who graduated from Tillotson College in Austin, Tex., where he coached for 44 years ago. The men found the Chases and flew them to Austin for a recognition ceremony.
From his box of memorabilia he pulled out the plaque they gave him "in appreciation for outstanding guidance and leadership." Another plaque, from three former Dunbar students, reads: "Always a winner."
As he looks at an old picture of the Texas team, the old coach's gravelly drawl turns soft. "These fellows were not big in size but big of heart. They had it hard," he said. "I coached them during the Depression. I did what I could for them."